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Lord Rooker: My Lords, it is free choice. In the past five years there has been a 43 per cent increase in the consumption of bottled water. People have a choice, and the Government should not be in the position of removing it from thembut it should be an informed choice, both on the cost economically and the cost to the environment.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, will the Minister agree that in many parts of upland Britain new enterprises have started by bottling water that is of very high quality? I endorse what he said about choice. It is very important that those people who want to drink bottled water should be able to do so and not be denied it.
Lord Bach: My Lords, we are concerned about the escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel. The rocket attacks against Israel are terrorist acts seeking to undermine the peace process. The leaders of the Palestinian Authority need support in their search for peace. We are concerned about their decision to suspend negotiations with the Israeli Government, and hope that the talks will be swiftly resumed. Peace will be brought to the region only through the political process.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that the strongest condemnations of Israel in the past few days have often come from many worthy NGO and other groups in Israel itself, and that a recent poll in Israel showed that 65 per cent of respondents were in favour of opening talks with Hamas? Will the Government now please have an urgent discussion with their US partners to remind them solemnly that if they persist in vetoing every UN resolution, as that country has done over 30 times since 1967, Mr Olmert naturally has no need to obey international law and the Geneva conventions forbidding attacks on civilians, and the hapless Palestinians will never get the independent state that George Bush promised them four years ago?
Lord Bach: My Lords, what really matters is that we should go on working closely with our international partners to support the US-led process that was initiated at Annapolis. The visit of Secretary of State Rice to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, which ends today, demonstrates continued US support. All our efforts must be to ensure that this is a year of progress.
Of course we are committed to Israel's security and its right to self-defence but we agree that measures taken in response to rockets must be in accordance with international law, minimising the suffering of innocent civilians and maximising the scope for political negotiations to be restarted.
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the rockets that were fired at Israel were fired at civilians and that the attacks were on civilians? If there is to be peace in the area, negotiations towards a peaceful solution should be restarted as soon as possible, because they are the best way of ensuring the continuation of the state of Israel in peace and a sovereign Palestinian state alongside it. The 60 rockets that were fired last week were not good for that peaceful solution. Do Her Majesty's Government agree that the Government of Israel have been left with no choice but to act out of self-defence when there are such attacks, and that it is an intolerable situation that cannot last? Hamas must renounce violence if there is to be peace.
Lord Bach: My Lords, we agree that the rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel, which have increased very much in number in the course of the last week with more powerful rockets than have been used before, are a matter of huge concern to the Israeli civilian population. We are committed to Israel's security and its right to self-defence. But, as I have already said, measures must be in accordance with international law. We want to get the parties back to the peace table as quickly as possible because only there can a peaceful future be decided.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, does the Minister agree that now is the time to reconsider with our European colleagues our policy of refusing to deal with Hamas? We should use those contacts and our contacts with the Israeli Government to persuade both sides to stop this deplorable round of retaliatory military action and to revive the proposal made by Hamas a long time ago for a truce, which was supported by the Arab summit in Mecca and rejected by the Israeli Government.
Lord Bach: My Lords, the key to making progress is to support the US-led process. All our efforts are behind that. We will not do anything that might undermine that process. That includes, I am afraid, talking to Hamas unless there is some significant movement in relation to the three quartet principles. Those principles were not set unreasonably high. They are accepting non-violence, accepting recognition of Israel and accepting previous agreements and obligations. It is not asking a lot to agree to those principles. If Hamas accepted them, it should be brought into the process.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, at the time of the Annapolis conference some months ago, many of us urged that it was no use seeing it as a one-off conference which would then produce a peace development out of a hat: it had to be part of a sequence of conferences building to a greater
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Lord Bach: My Lords, I understand the noble Lords point, but I think that his question is not really addressed to me. However, I agree with himif this is what he was sayingthat balance is absolutely necessary if we are to proceed with the peace process.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, while condemning the rocket attacks on Israel it is important that we also acknowledge the real ferocity of the Israeli response, which many people believe was disproportionate. The role of the Arab League in trying to persuade the parties to come back to the negotiating table is enormously important. Many admire the role that Jordan and Egypt have played in particular. What can my noble friend tell us about their attitudes?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot assist the House as regards the Arab Leagues statements made since last weeks events began. However, we very much welcome its work to take forward the Arab peace initiative. Frankly, the history of the Middle East shows that without active engagement and support from Arab states the momentum for progress cannot be maintained. The international community has a key role to play in moving forward the peace process, and that is particularly true of the Arab League.
The noble Lord said: Those of us who were lucky enough to be here late on Monday night were treated to an hour or so of education on the law of self-defence, courtesy of the noble Lords, Lord Neill of Bladen and Lord Elystan-Morgan. I learnt a great deal from that. It is possible that the Minister learnt something from it too, although he did not give that away.
This amendment, and Amendment No. 142A with which it is grouped, are a small coda to that discussion concerning the law of self-defence as it applies to bailiffs. As far as I know, for a very long time both the bailiff and the debtor have been entitled to the protection of the law of self-defence. The encounter between a bailiff and a debtor is always fraught and can naturally lead to the use of violence in some circumstances.
As explained to us on Monday night, the law of self-defence in this country is a very good combination of limitations on what violence can legitimately be used and a proper understanding of the circumstances; that is, where violence erupts in these circumstances one cannot afterwards, in the cold light of day, take too fine a view of the degree of violence that was used and whether it was exactly proportionate to the occasion. That seems an extremely civilised and sensible way of going on and has always been the arrangement regarding an encounter between a bailiff and a debtor. However, in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill the Government proposed that this should be altered and that the bailiff should be given a right to employ violence against the debtor. That right is to be enshrined in regulations that we have not yet seen but which I am told are in the course of preparation. I want to use the opportunity of the Bill and the light thrown again on
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We allow agents of the state to use violence on occasion. The police are the obvious example, but they are a well-trained body of men and women and the complaints and supervision procedures work well. Although things go wrong from time to time, by and large it is an extremely satisfactory process and has been for a long time. But the police deal with criminal cases and bailiffs deal with debt. Bailiffs are not well regulated. The system of regulation is extremely loose in practice. Although there are many effective, efficient and well-behaved bailiffs, we all know that a good number do not follow the rules and that the current arrangements do not curb them. That is why the Government intend to put in place better controls, but they are not in place at the moment.
By and large, we are dealing with small amounts of money. This auto-justice that we have got used to, where small fines are handed out in very large quantities and quickly find their way into the bailiff system, is creating a large pressure of work in that area. Individual London authorities are putting tens of thousands of their residents into the hands of bailiffs every year. The figure in Camden is 40,000 per year and rising and other local authorities are not far behind. These are very large numbers of people and very small amounts of money; the people are often vulnerable and it is a civil debt. Under those circumstances are we really right to allow bailiffs, as they are, to employ violence against the debtor as a means of getting repayment of the debt? That is what the Government propose. It was in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill when it first came before us this was in the Bill and it will now be in regulations.
Lord Lucas: I am arguing that they should be in exactly the same position. The Government propose to give bailiffs the right to employ violence against debtors. That is in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act, not in this Bill. They are able to bring in regulations that will describe to what extent bailiffs are allowed to employ violence against the person. I argue that the Government should refrain from bringing these regulations into effect. That would be the simple thing to do; I am proposing to do it by means of an amendment that would prohibit the regulations from being brought into effect.
We know little about the rules under which bailiffs operate. There is a code of conducta set of guidancebut the Government refuse to publish it. It was requested under the Freedom of Information Act and appeared with two-thirds of it blanked out. I presume that that will again be the case if bailiffs are allowed to use violence; we will not allowed to know the rules under which they are allowed to use violence against debtors.
When the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act went through, we were promised that there would be a process of consultation, that the results would be published and that we would know who the Minister
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I hope that the Government will back away from this, but if they are still committed to going ahead, can they at least name one or more organisations that want this power and give us some idea of how they intend to employ it and why? I beg to move.
The Earl of Onslow: I very much support the amendment. It is interesting that the powers of bailiffs have been changed for the worse for the first time since 1603. If they managed between 1603 and now without wanting the powers to be increased and are still not wanting the powers to be increased, why on earth are the Government giving another body more powers of estate over individuals? This has been a general creep from this Government from the day they got into office, to boss people about and restrict their individual liberties. The list is long and legion. My noble friend Lord Lucas, who is on most issues on the side of the angels, especially on individual liberty, should therefore be supported up to the hilt on this.
Lord Bach: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for bringing the attention of the House back to these important issues relating to debtors, in particular vulnerable debtors. Like me, he has spent two evenings here waiting for this amendment to be called, but he has now moved it in the full light of day. I pay tribute to him for the work that he does in this field. The contents of Amendments Nos. 137A and 142A will be familiar to many noble Lords who followed or took part in the debates held in the previous Session during the passage of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act, in particular the debates on the powers available to enforcement agents, or bailiffs, as they are more commonly called.
Let me make it clear that we remain behind our stated policy position, which goes back as far as the launch of the enforcement review, initiated by my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg when he was Lord Chancellor in 1998. It will be supported by the Committee that legitimate creditors who have proven their case and are owed a statutory or judgment debt or a criminal fine should be able to have those debts enforced by the most appropriate and effective means available. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, knows, Schedule 2 to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act outlines the new procedures and powers to be used by enforcement agents when enforcing a criminal fine, judgment or statutory debt by way of taking control of goods.
As the noble Lord and I both heard on Monday night in the expert exposition by my noble and learned friend Lord Davidson, Clause 128 only clarifies and restates the existing common law and does not confer any new powers. There can therefore be no principle reason for disapplying it from the proposed new clause. We think that it would be illogical to have two separate regimes that meant that the use of force under the common law of self-defence was subject to the clarification in Clause 128 in some situations but not in others.
The common law right of self-defence already exists, and it is not necessary or desirable to restate in statute that such a right exists. The proposed deletion of the provisions in paragraphs 24(2) and 31(5) of Schedule 12 to the 2007 Act would remove the ability to make regulations in relation to the use of reasonable force against persons by enforcement agents.
I reiterate briefly what was said during the passage of that Billthe noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will remember it welland repeat the assurances given at that time by the Leader of the House, my noble friend Lady Ashton, and by my ministerial colleague in the other place, the honourable Vera Baird MP. The power to use force against persons, either in premises or on the highway will be authorised only in line with regulations upon which we have already promised we will consult, and which will need to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. That consultation has not yet begun. It has not yet taken place. If, after consultation with representatives of all sides, including the advice sector, the enforcement industrythat is, the bailiffsthe judiciary and other government departments, such powers are felt to be unnecessary, we will not bring regulations forward.
I openly restate that commitment today and I hope that that will reassure the noble Lord that these powers will be introduced only if they are felt to be necessary. My advice to him, if I may be so bold, would be that when the consultation begins, he puts in his two-pennyworth, as it is sometimes called, about this issue and encourages others to do the same.
I should make it clear that if such regulations were brought in, the use of force would be allowed only in a restraining capacity to enable enforcement agents to go about their lawful duty without being hindered by physical interference, but stop short of actual physical harm being caused to them. These regulations are not about self-defence when an enforcement agent is being physically attacked, because the existing laws of self-defence would still apply in those circumstances.
Some examples of where the powers may be required include, perhaps, removing someone who drapes themselves across the bonnet of a car in an attempt to physically stop it being taken, or moving aside someone who is deliberately standing in front of a door to physically prevent a locksmith forcing a lock. It does not legitimise the use of violence; it will not allow, for example, the use of physical body searches or the removal of items of clothing or jewellery.
The powers in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 were a culmination of many years of consultation, research and hard work to try and get into one place a comprehensive set of powers that
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